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Month: May 2014

Constant over-praising is damaging our kids.

I’m thrilled to be sharing this brilliant post by a colleague I adore; the always-wise Dr Karen Brooks. This was first published by The Courier Mail, 26th May.
I had the opportunity to talk to this on channel 7’s The Morning Show. You may watch this segment below.

At the Positive Schools Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference held at the Brisbane Convention Centre last week, teachers were told the emphasis on self-esteem in education and parenting has failed our children.

Rather than creating happy, confident kids, the self-esteem movement has contributed to what behavioural psychiatrist Dr David Sack calls “a generation of self-obsessed, irresponsible and unmotivated kids”.

Other experts describe kids unable to deal with adversity, anti-social behaviour, gross egotism, selfishness and an overweening sense of entitlement.

Described sometimes as cottonwool, eggshell and even teacup kids (because they’re so fragile), children raised under the self-esteem banner have no resilience and crumble at the first sign of criticism or difficulty.

Where and how did something so well-intended go so wrong?

The self-esteem movement began in 1969 with the publication of Nathaniel Braden’s book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem. Over the next 30 years, his idea that high self-esteem was the most valuable gift we can give to children was absorbed into the popular consciousness, the education system and parenting.

Evidence of its pervasiveness can also be seen in reality TV and the huge self-help industry, including motivational speakers.

But it seems as if the ideas and methodologies Braden spawned have backfired.

Deakin University Adjunct Professor Helen McGrath, argues “… a lot of the people who gloat about how to develop self-esteem are now writing about how this is actually a dangerous thing to do because what we are really doing is producing kids who are narcissistic because we focus too much on telling them how good they are, how wonderful they are, how everything they do is fantastic”.

Some have been taught to have no resilience and crumble at the first sign of difficulty.

Some have been taught to have no resilience and crumble at the first sign of difficulty.

Handing out ribbons to every child in a race; discouraging competition, ensuring no report card contains words that might offend, upset, or indicate (God forbid) how ordinary or bad a child’s performance at school really is, we’ve created a conformists’ paradise of mediocrity, where those at the top are given the same kind of accolades as those at the bottom and no one strives anymore.

After all, what’s the point when everyone is “special”, “gifted” and “smart”?

Focused on showering praise and positive comments upon our kids to shore up self-esteem, even when they don’t deserve them, it’s only recently we’ve noted the concomitant rise in depression, body dysmorphia, bullying and anxiety.

Discouraged from giving honest critiques of students’ abilities and understandably nervous about the fallout when they do, teachers are forced to pander to the ideals spouted in this outdated and hideously damaging self-esteem movement.

The consequences of this are not only a dumbing-down of every level of education but a fear of candid and constructive feedback – the cornerstones of life-learning. Parents who fight their kids’ battles – whether it be poor test results, being left out of a team or bad behaviour in the classroom, are teaching kids they don’t need to deal with adversity, change their manner or try harder either – not when mum or dad steps into the ring on their behalf.

Yet kids only blossom when they can move out their parents’ shadows.

There’s no doubt that social networking facilitates narcissism, encouraging a generation to use any means at their disposal to shore up their fragile self-esteem and seek approval (“likes”). In the cyberworld, increasing risks are taken to maintain a distorted sense of self-importance and relevance – think of sexting.

Dr Lauren LaPorta, chairman of the department of psychiatry at St Joseph’s Regional Medical Centre in New Jersey, argues that through social media, “Relationships become shallower and more fleeting; self-interest exceeds the common good. The costs of narcissism, then, are paid by the society at large.”

Dannielle Miller, CEO of Enlighten Education, who runs self-esteem and school-to-work-transition workshops for young people, believes that self-esteem is all about connectedness, compassion and community – an ability to empathise with others. She says in order to value yourself, you must value the person next to you. Appreciating the skills you have, upskilling where necessary, she encourages young people to respect what others bring to situations, to be prepared to start at the bottom and to adapt.

Like many other experts, Miller believes high self-esteem isn’t the problem as much as false self-esteem. Steve Baskin, writing in Psychology Today, would agree. “Self-esteem is not something conferred, it is earned through taking risks and developing skills. When children stretch themselves, they expand their sense of their own capability and then feel confident to tackle the next challenge. Confidence comes from competence – we do not bestow it as a gift.”

In other words, despite what Braden argued in the 1960s, self-esteem does not cause high grades, high grades (earned through intellect, study, dedication, passion and a combination of all these) cause high self-esteem.

In shielding our kids from the vagaries of life, we’re doing them a huge disservice. We insulate them from experiences that encourage growth, mental toughness and build healthy self-esteem. Worse, we reinforce the notion they’re not capable of coping on their own.

If we want to prepare our kids for adult life – one that’s often harsh – then we owe it to them to give them a gift all right: resilience.

Dr Karen Brooks is an associate professor at the UQ Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies.

Enlighten Education – A proud, and highly successful, social enterprise.


1613882_10152158812673105_2873685670766955317_nOn Wednesday of this week I had the enormous privilege of attending the In Style Magazine Women Of Style Awards as a Finalist in the Charity and Community category.

I was so incredibly thrilled to be short -listed, particularly in this category, for Enlighten was established as a social enterprise and as such, is quite a unique entity in the domain in which we chose to work.

Social enterprises are:

  • Driven by a public or community cause, be it social, environmental, cultural or economic.
  • Derive most of their income from trade, not donations.
  • Use the majority of their profits to work towards their social mission.
  • Accountable and transparent.

Other social enterprises you may be familiar with include The Big Issue and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen.

Why was Enlighten set up in this way? After spending most of my early career working in the not-for-profit sector (as an Education Officer employed by the Catholic Education Office developing innovative programs to assist students at risk) I know how frustrating it is to try to do meaningful work that will have a long-term impact if one needs to continually rely on donations and external funding support. Sadly, those working in this sector often spend the vast majority of their time looking for funding rather than actually doing the work that inspires them ( and that the community assume they will be doing)! The table below may surprise you – I certainly find the use of donations being spent to merely drive the hunger for more money at the very least problematic.

 

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Whilst working as an Education Officer in the area of school to work transition and in seeking and creating innovative approaches towards this, I began studying a Masters in Business Administration and writing a course that was approved for study for the NSW HSC on social entrepreneurship. I became obsessed with the idea that business really could move the world by generating not just profit, but social change.

I decided, therefore, when I established Enlighten Education with my partner Francesca Kaoutal that our business would need to be self-sufficient; and that the work we did would need to be valued enough for clients to be prepared to place a value on it. I was also loathe to establish my girl-changing idea as a charity as I did not want to have to be in a position where I would need to accept donations off commercial entities that might perhaps want to see brand placement be part of the trade-off, or associate our work with their marketing -to- teens / girls and women agenda (think Dove’s Real Beauty campaign and their work in schools). I wanted Enlighten to be commercial free!

And might I add that running Enlighten this way is not easy. If we were a charity, we would be eligible not only for donations, but for significant tax breaks ( like all small businesses, I will admit to finding taxes sometimes crippling). Charities receive income tax concessions, franking credits, goods and service tax concessions, fringe benefit tax rebates and more! On a personal note, I would be earning far more too if I was employed in a similar role in a non-profit ( in fact, I took a 50% pay cut for the first 5 years that I ran Enlighten and still earn far less than CEO’s of similar charitable organisations).

So to see our highly successful social enterprise ( we work with over 20,000 teen girls each year , have developed a team of over team of passionate, talented women who deliver our programs across three countries, give back by actively supporting charities, do much advocacy work in the community, pay taxes that contribute to the country’s overall benefit, and have received widespread acclaim for our work) recognised as a valued player in the community was an absolute confirmation of the way in which we have chosen to be change-makers.

So inspired by Samah! Do read about her work.
So inspired by Samah! Do read about her work.

As a business woman, I think more entities who wish to make positive community changes need to also look at our model and consider becoming a social enterprise too rather than a charity for surely, giving increasing financial pressures on the always cash-strapped charity sector, we need to seek more entrepreneurial, self-sustaining models.

In saying all this, I was absolutely thrilled for the other two Finalists who were both actively involved in more traditional charitable work – Olivia Newtown John, and the winner Samah Hadid. Samah is an absolute dynamo and I am thrilled she and I will soon meet to compare stories and plan the revolution.

The world needs many change makers – including those who seek creative ways to bringing about this change.

Yep. I am damn  proud of Enlighten and all she has achieved, and will continue to achieve for our girls. And yep; I was damn proud to see this externally acknowledged.

You may wish to read more about our work in the community here too: http://www.enlighteneducation.com/in-the-community/

 

Find Your Tribe

Despite the popular rhetoric about social media leading to the demise of real-world friendships (you’ve heard the criticisms, right? “Teens are now too busy texting to talk”, “Young people care more about their profile pics than their mates”) in my experience, many of us use technology to not only maintain meaningful relationships, but to develop new ones.

Bec and I get "tribal."
Bec and I get “tribal.”

Case in point? I first “met” the talented writer and media commentator Rebecca Sparrow on Twitter. She was tweeting about a young Intern who had made some provocative  statements about her employers. I disagreed with Bec’s take on this and I challenged her. Rather than raging at me in under 140 characters (which is so often the preferred mode of discourse on Twitter), she messaged me to thank me for prompting her to reconsider. We then begun exchanging messages and realised we both had much in common; Bec too delights in writing for young women. Her guide books for teen girls, Find Your Tribe – and 9 other things I wish I’d known in high school and  Find Your Feet – the 8 things I wish I’d know before I left high school are so incredibly warm, wise, honest and filled with just the kind of advice every girl needs to hear! In fact, Bec is one of those rare writers who makes you fall a little in love with her after reading her books and I found I longed to be part of her “tribe” too – so much so that I recently took myself off to Brisbane to stay with her and her family and share thoughts on teen girls, writing, parenting and Wonder Woman. Cyber friendship result!

Through my work with young women I have reinforced daily just how vital their friendships are to them too. As I discuss in my own books, teen girls and their friends often experience the highest highs, and the lowest lows. Any advice then that helps make sense of these vital relationships needs to be shared – and I am thrilled to be able to share an extract from Find Your Tribe here. Share it with the girls you care about too.

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Let’s get one thing straight. The truth is, despite having written a novel entitled The Girl Most Likely – I wasn’t. I wasn’t the girl most likely to succeed in high school. I wasn’t a prefect. I didn’t win any awards in my final year. Not a single one. In fact, in high school I was fairly average. I got pretty good grades, I guess, but I didn’t top any subjects. And I certainly didn’t stand out. Although when I look back at photos of me at seventeen I’m not entirely sure how I DIDN’T stand out considering that in high school I looked like a cross between Tootsie and Jon Bon Jovi. Harold Bishop with a perm. That was me. Excellent.

And while we’re being honest, let’s just say that high school also handed me some of my most crushing moments. Nobody invited me to my school formal. A guy that I was madly in love with barely knew I even existed. I was so bad at Maths I ended up having to do Maths in Society. And despite the fact I’d been playing netball since I was nine, I wasn’t chosen for even the C-grade netball team in high school. Talk about a blow to the ego.

But here’s the weird bit. Despite all that rotten stuff – I loved high school. Yep. Loved it. I’m one of those people who can actually, genuinely say they enjoyed it. A number of my closest friends today are the people I whispered secrets to during Modern History and French and Drama (and, clearly, PE and Maths. I’m beginning to suspect that my grades would’ve been better if I’d actually shut up and paid attention in class).

So how does that work? What was my secret? I made some smart decisions. Starting with finding my tribe ….

FIND YOUR TRIBE

One of the major factors that will determine the quality of your time at high school is who you hang around. Your friends.

I’m going to cut to the chase: Life is too short to hang around with bitchy, negative people. So don’t. In high school you want to find your tribe. Your tribe are those friends who get you, who see the world the way you see it, who like you for who you are. They’re real friends. They don’t slag you off the moment your back is turned or routinely humiliate you and put you down. Nope. Real friends have your back – they’re fiercely loyal and protective. If you have a tribe of six friends – that’s fantastic. But even if you have just one great friend – that’s all you need.

You know what else? You don’t need to be in the cool group to enjoy high school. Aim to be someone who is friends with all different kinds of people at school. Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes calls this being a ‘floater’. Floaters do their own thing, have healthy self-esteem and they definitely don’t pay attention to peer pressure. Be authentic in your tastes. In other words, be who you are. Don’t change your personality or your interests or your taste just to hang around with girls who spend all their time bitching and making fun of other people.

All this sounds obvious, right? And yet many adults will tell you it took them years (and some painful friendship experiences) to finally get this lesson. For some reason, many of us spend our spare time with snarky, negative people who make us feel worthless.

And don’t think for a second that hanging around with the cool group will make you seem more attractive. There’s nothing attractive about someone who behaves like a sheep and follows a leader. You’re way better off hanging around with your tribe. After all, what’s attractive is a girl who is confident, who can laugh at herself, who smiles a lot and who exudes a generous spirit.

 

N.B You may also be interested in my seminar for parents and educators on supporting girls to make positive, healthy friendships. Find out more about this, and download a flyer, here

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